Korean American Woman Making History in Congress

with Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash.

Asian American Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., yet account for less than 1% of all elected leaders — but progress is being made.

Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash., one of the first three Korean American women elected to Congress, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how her Korean American identity informs the work that she does today, and discusses the progress AAPI elected officials have made regarding increased representation across all levels of government.

Posted on:

November 29, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The Asian American and Pacific Islander Community is one of the most culturally diverse groups in the United States, yet despite being the fastest-growing demographic in the country, AAPIs are the least likely to be elected to public office. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. AAPI Americans account for 6.1% of the U.S. population, but less than 1% of all elected leaders. Recent years have seen some progress. The 117th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse in history, with the first three Korean-American women elected, including Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland. She is multiracial, and she's also the first African-American to represent the state of Washington and she joins me today. Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland, welcome to you.

Strickland: Thank you for having me here today.

Anderson: When you were sworn in, you wore the traditional dress of your mother's culture. It was the first time that a hanbok had been worn for a swearing-in ceremony, and you got a lot of media attention for it. Why was it so important for you to sort of give that nod to your heritage in your first official appearance?

Strickland: So I was sworn in on January 3rd, 2021, and it was very important for me to recognize my Korean cultural heritage for a few reasons. We did not have the ability to invite friends and family because we were still in the midst of a pandemic at that time, and I wanted to wear something so I would stand out on the House floor, especially for my friends and family who were watching on television. And also, too, just to send a very important message, given some of the climate that's happening right now in Washington, D.C. and around the country. There is a spate of anti-Asian hate crimes taking place. And even though they hadn't really peaked at that time, it was important for me to send a message that the U.S. House of Representatives is the people's house and it belongs to all people. And, you know, the beautiful array of folks who come from different parts of the world recognizing our ethnicity and our culture is really what makes America great, America a great country. So it's important for me to make a nod to my cultural heritage.

Anderson: You mentioned the House of Representatives belonging to the public, to the people. How much was this really about highlighting how far AAPI electeds have come in representation across the whole spectrum of government?

Strickland: It was very important to do that. In this election cycle, in 2020, we elected for the first time four Korean-Americans. You know, Andy Kim ran for reelection and won. And I was elected along with two other Korean-American women. And so really just highlighting the Korean-American diaspora and just highlighting the fact that, again, Asian-American culture and heritage is important. We obviously want to increase the number of Asian Americans who are serving in all levels of government, whether it's local, state or federal. But it was really just a nod to the fact that we were making history.

Anderson: Let's talk a little bit about your personal history. I mean, your parents faced a lot of discrimination because of who they were as individuals and as a multiracial and multi-cultural couple. Tell us a little bit about them and talk about what lessons you learned from them that you are still able to draw on today.

Strickland: Well, as someone who is black and Korean, and I'll tell the story about my father joining a segregated army as a young man, and he was from the Deep South. When he was stationed in Korea, he met my mother, Inmin Kim at the time, they got married, I was born, and we moved to the States and I was one and a half years old at the time. And we moved to Virginia, in the '60s, where it was illegal for my parents to be married to each other. And so, you know, even having that happened during my lifetime has really informed a few things. Number one, in the work that I do, I am always doing it through the lens of equity and inclusion. Whenever I look at policy decisions or even spending decisions, I ask myself a few questions. Is this going to help or hurt the black community? Is this going to help or hurt the Asian-American community? And I say this not because I'm trying to exclude other people, but when we look at equity and inclusion, it benefits all people.

Anderson: We've heard so often from guests on this show that if you can see it, you can achieve it. And there's certainly a lot to see with you. You're a businesswoman. You are black. You are Korean-American. How much of a responsibility do you feel to represent all of these facets of your identity, and how does that inform the work you do?

Strickland: So I represent the 10th Congressional District of Washington State, which is diverse in every possible sense of the word. It's urban, it's rural, it's suburban. There is definitely a multicultural and multiethnic population there. There's the largest military base on the West Coast there. And so I tell people that while I represent the 10th District, you know, just based on who I am and my upbringing, I will always pay special attention to the African-American community and the Korean-American community. I'm the only African-American who represents not just Washington state, but the entire Pacific Northwest. And I say this because, yes, I represent a very specific congressional district. But obviously, you know, I represent people up and down the I-5 corridor. I have supporters all over the state of Washington. I have supporters in California and New York. And so I tell people, even if you technically can't vote for me, I am always taking a vote for you. And of course, I'm highlighting the needs of the communities from which I come, not just because of the work we're doing around equity and inclusion and economic opportunity, but also to be an example to other generations. I want to see more young people of color running for office at the local level, at the state level, and the federal level. And also, when you talked about my background, it's important to remember that I cut my teeth in local government. I served as a city council member for two years and I had the honor of serving as the mayor of Tacoma, Washington, for two terms.

Anderson: I'm wondering about the legacy that you plan to leave and what you think needs to really be done in Congress. I mean, are there particular topic areas that you feel strongly about when it comes to drafting or co-sponsoring legislation in the future?

Strickland: Well, I have the honor of serving on two very important committees. I serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. And I'm also the only African-American woman who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. So with transportation and infrastructure, obviously we passed a significant bill, and we are doing this to put people to work to address things like climate change, electric vehicles, investing in transit, clean water, expanding Internet access for people. And we want to make sure that these things are done equitably. So part of my legacy is just focusing on the basics of infrastructure, which we have not invested in for so long, and ensuring that the people who get access to those jobs, the small businesses, get access to contracting. Again, done through the lens of equity so that all people are included. And then with my service on the military -- you know, with the Armed Services Committee, it's really about recognizing a few things. 40% of the people who serve in the military are people of color. And so as we look at what the needs are of our personnel and their families, making sure that they're able to afford housing, that they're getting the benefits and care that they deserve, and really just making sure that we are honoring and uplifting our military population. And then the other things, right. Housing, you know, working on transportation, working on economic development to make sure that families are economically stable and secure. And then, of course, my big audacious goal is to one day work with our tribal nations to make sure that we're able to rename Mount Rainier and restore it to its native name, which is Mount Tahoma.

Anderson: So I know people are going to want to know more. What's your website? Where can they go?

Strickland: So if they want to learn more about me and the fantastic work that my team is doing in D.C. and in the District, they can go to Strickland.house.gov.

Anderson: Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland, thank you so much for being here.

Strickland: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to you for watching as well. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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